Lethbridge safe drug consumption site will be a North American 1st, official says

In the first half of 2017, about 60 per cent of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Alberta Health Service's south zone happened in Lethbridge.

Users will be allowed to inject, smoke, snort or take pills at facility slated to open next month

Stacey Bourque, executive director of ARCHES, says the safe consumption site opening in February will offer clients all four methods of consumption. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC News)

In the first half of 2017, about 60 per cent of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Alberta Health Service's south zone happened in Lethbridge.

Now they're working toward offering addicts in their community a safe consumption site that is the first of its kind in North America.

Lethbridge's safe consumption site is slated to open at the end of next month.

All methods of consumption

The site will be run by the AIDS Outreach Community Harm Reduction Education & Support Society (ARCHES).

Executive director Stacey Bourque says this site will be the first in North America to offer all methods of consumption.

"They'll be four modes of consumption available to people who use drugs," she said. "So, they can can orally ingest, they can take inter-nasally, inhalation — so smoking — or injection." 

The former Pulse nightclub in Lethbridge is being repurposed as a supervised consumption services site in the southern Alberta city. (Google Maps)

Safe consumption facilities in Calgary and Edmonton do not offer inhalation consumption at their sites.

Inside the building there will be addictions counselling, harm reduction supply distribution, nursing services and more. 

Lethbridge mayor Chris Spearman said the city did a lot of research before deciding what the safe consumption site would offer clients. 

"We had two people go over to Europe to witness what they're doing there, and their sites included all four forms of consumption," he said. "We know that all four forms of consumption are occurring in the city, so you have to deal with all of them." 

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman says he believes the site will help solve some of the city's social issues. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC News)

Opioid-related ER visits 'highest in province'

Bourque said what's even more alarming than the rate of fatal fentanyl overdoses in Lethbridge is the number of emergency room visits for opioid poisoning. 

"Our rates for emergency department visits here due to opioid poisoning are the highest in the province — by more than 25 per cent," she said. 

Bourque credits existing agencies — including city police and Alberta Health Services — for doing a good job of dealing with opioid overdoses with the tools at hand. 

"Clearly, if they're 25 per cent higher, we know the death rate could potentially be 25 per cent higher," she said. 

Bourque said she hopes opening the city's safe consumption site at the end of February will help those systems provide an even higher standard of care to opioid users in the city and keep the emergency department visits low. 

Spearman said he believes a safe consumption site is a big part of the solution to solving Lethbridge's social problems and building trust with users and concerned citizens. 

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Lucie most recently headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alberta. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson